Monday, February 05, 2007

Babies and Bathwater

This heartbreaking op-ed in today's Hartford Courant brings home the impact of what happens to the babies thrown out with the bathwater while posturing primates politic in yet-another episode of "As the Anglican World Turns."

No wonder Jesus wept.

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Church's Hard Line On Gays Hurts Kids
Ellen Painter Dollar

I am an Episcopalian who, until recently, felt I had little at stake in the debate about homosexuality that is dividing the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. I was mildly dismayed that all this energy devoted to sexual morality was distracting us from vital ministries to the poor, sick and excluded.

My detachment ended on Christmas Eve. As we ushered our children to the car after the pageant at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, my husband shared disturbing news. The rector had received an e-mail from the bishop in Tanzania where Trinity's partner church, Mbugani Anglican Holy Trinity Church, is located.The bishop was terminating the partnership because Tanzanian bishops had voted to limit communion with American churches that hold liberal views on homosexuality.

Further, the Tanzanian bishops declared that "the Anglican Church of Tanzania shall not knowingly accept financial and material aid from dioceses, parishes, bishops, priests, individuals and institutions in the Episcopal Church that condone homosexual practice or bless same-sex unions."For our congregation - and our family - the partnership was more than a feel-good exercise. Twenty Tanzanian teenagers who expected to start school in January did not, because the scholarship money we sent for them was not accepted.

The partnership between Trinity and Mbugani began in the mid-1990s, but then languished. In 2000, my husband and another church member traveled to the Diocese of Tabora, where the church is located. Their visit breathed new life into the partnership.

The following year, Mbugani's pastor and a diocesan staff member visited Hartford. They told us that in Tanzania, even public schools require fees. Families often scrape together enough for primary school, but many cannot afford the higher secondary-school fees. Without a high school education, young men and women end up as subsistence farmers like their parents. Trinity congregants agreed to pay for secondary school for five new students each year, and to see the students through to graduation. We saw our partnership as more than just a wealthy American church bestowing charity on a poor African church. We prayed for them, and they prayed for us. The bishop of Tabora visited Hartford in 2005, and our rector and his wife visited Tanzania in 2006.

The differences between our communities are vast. We have so much; they have so little. We struggled with their understandable tendency to see us as a never-ending funding source. They raised concerns about the American church's more liberal views on sexuality. Our rector made it clear that Trinity welcomes all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Visits and correspondence were marked by respect, affection and renewed faith in God.

About $200 per student per year could change these kids' lives forever. In their letters, some scholarship students told us about living with elderly relatives after losing their parents to AIDS. Some wrote of being the youngest of many children, with no money for schooling.

In Tanzania last summer, one boy's father knelt in gratitude before our rector and his wife; his son's education made possible a better future for all the family. This past December, Trinity's outreach committee sold Christmas gifts to raise scholarship money. People often wrote checks for $20, $40, even $100 more than the price, because they didn't want to let the kids down.

Then came the bishop's e-mail.

The Mbugani parishioners who select scholarship recipients asked him what would happen to the students who depended on that money. He told them that God will care for God's children.

Though I believe that too, I also believe that God's hands on earth are our hands. I am grieving for these children, but also for myself and my congregation. We have not given up on our partnership. We still believe that our common faith is more powerful than our differences. We believe in a God of reconciliation who can heal our divisions. But we are still mourning. We are stunned that a relationship built with great care over many years can be so swiftly dismantled.

We wonder who will be God's hands for those 20 young students now that our hands have been tied.

Ellen Painter Dollar lives in West Hartford.

UPDATE: I loved Jim Naughton's response to this story over at Daily Episcopalian:

Let's leave aside for the moment that there are probably very few dollars circulating in the global economy that haven't been touched by either gay or Episcopal hands at some point--no large scale donation from any source that doesn't include "tainted" money. Leave aside also the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus makes it clear that we don't get to choose the instrument through which God works his merciful purposes. Let's just look at the example of Jesus, who suffered for others, and compare it to the example of this bishop, who has others suffer for him.

5 comments:

Pfalz prophet said...

This is so easy to circumvent I'm surprised no one has taken the initiative. Set up a bank account, call it the Mbugami Children's Relief Fund or something, get an attorney to draft a brief charter pro bono, elect non-vestry and non-clergy to run it, and fund it from the church or anyone else who wants to contribute. The charter should not mention TEC. The officers restart the contacts and send funds the way the church used to.

Suzer said...

I work with a mission in Sierra Leone that would be glad to send kids to school with any money -- "tainted" or not!

Robert said...

Take a look at the very different slant put on this story over at the Connecticut Six website run by Kevin Kallsen: www.ctsix.org. The "headline" given by Mr. Kallsen is "Diocese of CT actions hurt Tanzanian Children." Don't read the comments unless you have a strong stomach.

revsusan said...

Yep ... as far as the Connecticut Sixer, Stand Firmers and titusoneniners are concerned there's no question who's to blame for everything wrong with the world and church as we know it ... and that would be us. They's blame global warming on the gay agenda if they weren't in denial that there IS global warming.

Here's the bottom line as far as I'm concerned: What it takes to make a split in the church is for someone to leave. And no matter how the "other side" trys to spin it they're the ones packing their bags. And they're the ones who bear the responsibility for the collateral damage on orphans in Nigeria and mothers in Malawi.

(And a "strong stomach" is only ONE of the things one needs to take along if one ventures into comment-land on the aforementioned sites. Lord, Lord, Lord!)

better late than never said...

pfalz prophet, et al:
As a member of Trinity, Hartford, I can tell you that we were sorely tempted to circumvent the directive from the ACT House of Bishops, but decided that doing so would be dishonest. The fact of the matter is that as a parish and as individuals we do "condone homosexual practice or bless same-sex unions." Setting up a shell corporation to funnel the funds through would undermine the authority of the ACT Bishops. Reluctantly, we are forced to wait. We still pray for the parish every week, and our rector is in regular communication with the current and former Bishops of the Diocese of Tabora.